IN MY OPINION
Nova's Ferrero ignores plight of janitors
By ANA MENENDEZ
March 4, 2007
Among university presidents in South Florida, Nova's Ray Ferrero Jr. stands in a class apart: the only leader who has proved himself utterly immune to shame.
At least 100 Nova janitors who fought for a union are out of a job, victims of the university's brazen union-busting campaign.
They include several couples like Amparo Correa and her husband Fernei Calderon, who have a small child at home; and Armando Pons and his wife Mayola Pons, who are struggling now to find new jobs at an age when most workers are looking at retirement.
''[Ferrero] has a job and a house,'' Correa told me. ``All we'd like is the opportunity to work honestly.''
Correa, Calderon and the Pons worked for Unicco, the contractor who provided janitors and other low-wage workers to the university for 12 years.
As soon as Unicco's workers voted to unionize, however, Nova administrators decided it was time to look for a new contractor.
It was an astonishingly callous move that, by the union's count, left 108 workers on the street.
And Ferrero? He has nothing to say, referring all questions to the little people -- the constellation of contractors and subcontractors who have replaced Unicco.
Ferrero's closest thing to a comment, delivered via a spokesman, was: ``We're not co-employers.''
That's just great. Dozens of people who already were living close to the margins now are without a means of supporting themselves, and the university president retreats behind spokesmen and meaningless legal mumbo-jumbo.
What a telling contrast to the way workers ultimately were treated at the University of Miami and Florida International University.
Say what you will about UM's Donna Shalala -- and I did -- but in the end, she proved she could be persuaded to do the right thing.
At FIU, President Mitch Maidique didn't let things get as far as they did at UM. Maidique, mindful of the UM fight, agreed to put FIU janitors back on the university's payroll, where in addition to higher wages, they could join the union.
Of course, at those universities the heavy persuading was done by faculty and students, who consistently and vocally supported the janitors.
That support never materialized at Nova, perhaps because it's an all-contract university. Not only is the faculty not unionized, but many of them don't even get tenure.
Besides, Ferrero, in contrast to his more flamboyant counterparts in Miami, keeps a relatively low profile. His political activity is undetectable. And it's hard to imagine him posing for a New York Times Magazine spread discussing his lavish lifestyle.
NOT THE SAME
And so he's gotten away with much more than Shalala or Maidique ever could.
While the janitor strike lit up the campuses in Miami, Ferrero bided his time. He no doubt counted on janitor fatigue: ``Oh God, not that again.''
His gamble seems to have paid off -- 102 janitors are still locked out of the university.
And, thanks to the triumph of the 24-hour news cycle, public attention has moved on to the latest celebrity exploits.
Fortunately, not everyone in this town is in a moral coma.
Last week, the Broward County Commission, angry about the treatment of the Nova workers, said they might look into the financial support the county offers the university.
The Miami Herald's Amy Sherman reported that the county gives about $5 million a year to help run Nova's library.
If commissioners pull the money, the public might lose library access. But commissioners would get to make a point.
''The power of the purse string is a pretty powerful tool,'' Mayor Josephus Eggelletion Jr. said.
He's right. Ferrero may be beyond shame.
But one thing he does seem to care about is money.